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Speculative Horizons edited by Patrick St. Denis

01/01/2011. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy

Buy Speculative Horizons edited in the USA - or Buy Speculative Horizons edited in the UK

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pub: Subterranean Press. 127 page deluxe hardback. Price: $20.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59606-336-5.

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When Patrick St. Denis was invited by Subterranean Press to put together an anthology he did so on condition that some of the proceeds went to breast cancer. So the stories have been donated in a good cause but are they good stories? Let’s see.

In ‘Soul Mate’ by C.S. Friedman, Josie meets the handsome owner of an art gallery who woos her. She falls head over heels in love, convinced that she has found her soul mate, despite the reservations of her friend Karen. Needless to say there is more to Stephan Mayeaux than meets the eye. It’s refreshing to see the idea of a soul mate debunked even if it is only a fantasy. The notion that everyone has a soul mate with whom they can effortlessly live happily ever after, the idea that romantic love is the be all and end all and main reason for living (despite reams of evidence to the contrary) is the most prevalent and harmful notion of our time. I’ve a sneaking suspicion that the author believes it. She should speak to Hal Duncan (see below).

‘The Eve Of The Fall Of Habesh’ by Tobias S. Buckell is about a city of magicians which is about to fall to the Sea People, with whom they have fallen out over forestry rights. A Contragnarth hunts down a beggar boy in obedience to the city’s rulers while most of the population is either fleeing or making ready to fight the Sea People. In a way it’s a study of patriotism versus self-interest with a well realised background. I found the prose a bit choppy but it was okay.

L.E. Modesitt, Jr. admits in his introduction to ‘The Stranger’ that it bears a passing resemblance to a classic western. It does but not much. Any story about a stranger turning up at an isolated farmhouse, staying for a couple of nights and helping out a kid and his mom will be compared to ‘Shane’ until the world ends. But the bad guys here are after the stranger himself and have no interest in his hosts. The setting is that of Modesitt’s ‘Recluce’ books and he also admits that he hopes it will interest readers who have not read his works. Well, it interested me and I‘ll add them to my long list of things I ought to read one day. I liked his prose style, too, which helps.

Brian Ruckley tried to imagine what life was really like for our hunter-gatherer ancestors or cavemen in common parlance. He imagined it well. ‘Flint’ is the eponymous hero of the tale, a man who has to take over as the tribe’s shaman when the old one dies even though he is not quite ready. Buried bones and a buried secret lead him into conflict with an evil spirit. This was a nicely constructed and uplifting story.

‘The Death Of Love’ by Hal Duncan was not. In this fantasy, the love of couples is physically manifest as a cupid, a chubby little creature with wings who hangs around them. Erocide is killing your love by killing cupid and the narrator is a cop who investigates this too frequent crime. The introduction reveals that this was written after a failed love affair which might explain the bitter tone and the appearance of the F word in practically every sentence. Writers as exalted as Stephen King use the word but whether for humour or for dramatic effect it is best used sparingly. Used non-stop, it becomes merely tiresome, in conversation or in print. Hal seems to be a talented writer and it was an original idea but I think it might have been wiser to wait a year or so before venting his spleen. We need emotional content - not anger. It is like a finger, pointing to da moon. (Sorry, Bruce). Perhaps Hal should get together with C.S. Friedman and discuss love.

I preferred the three middle yarns but this is a nicely mixed bunch and different readers will like different bits. It’s good that decent short stories are still being written and good, too, that Subterranean Press publishes so many anthologies of both new and classic works. More power to them.

Eamonn Murphy

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